Community centres and daycares across the Tri-Cities are open with activities to keep children busy - and out of the wind, rain and snow - as schools closed for a two-week spring break beginning Monday.
The planned closure for School District 43 to save money put a stop to potential job action by 2,000 members of the Coquitlam Teachers' Association.
But this weekend, some 700 B.C. teachers, including delegates from the Coquitlam Teachers' Association, will gather for the BC Teachers' Federation annual general meeting to talk about an action plan of resistance to Bill 22 that is expected to be passed in the legislature Thursday.
In a press release issued Tuesday morning, BCTF president Susan Lambert said teachers' hopes for an independent mediator were dashed with government efforts to put an end to debate by 5 p.m. on Thursday.
Lambert said the BCTF had promised to modify its contract proposals, including its salary objectives, to stave off the bill but the efforts failed.
"Since Feb. 20, the BC Teachers' Federation has been working diligently with the LRB [Labour Relations Bureau] to get an independent mediation process under way, unconstrained by preconditions. We agreed to modify our proposals significantly and made it clear that teachers were willing to compromise on every objective, including salary. As I have said many times: Everything is negotiable," said Lambert stated in the press release.
"But the government's complete intransigence at the LRB, coupled with its move to push Bill 22 through the legislature by this Thursday, have dashed any hope for a mediated settlement," she stated.
Bill 22 has many objectives, including implementing a cooling-off period and appointing a mediator on a specific list of non-wage and benefit issues, as well as changes to class size and composition regulations.
The NDP had tabled a bill calling for an independent mediator instead of one appointed by the government.
But the last-ditch effort was expected to fail and Lambert said disappointed teachers will be looking at next steps when they gather this weekend at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Vancouver.
"It's now perfectly clear that this government never intended to allow an independent mediation process to take place," she said. "They simply aren't interested in a fair solution, only in further attacking teachers' rights to bargain collectively."
Lambert added that teachers have tried every possible avenue to reach an agreement: "working with the government's fact-finder, calling for mediation, even agreeing to arbitration."
BILL 22 CONCERNS
Last week, Coquitlam teachers joined colleagues across the province in job action to protest Bill 22.
Locally, teachers are frustrated that class size and composition issues aren't being dealt with properly, including a Learning Improvement Fund the teachers say is in adequate.
In a letter to NDP MLAs, for example, Gleneagle art teacher Mike McElgunn wrote that Bill 22 does nothing to address issues in his classroom, where nine of 24 students have learning issues, including students with depression who can't complete classroom projects and another with a head injury that results in short-term memory loss, personality issues and attendance issues.
"This is a classroom situation that was deemed appropriate for educational purposes in our 'consultation' meeting," McElgunn wrote in a letter published in the CTA newsletter. "Can you imagine the work and stress involved in a class like this?"
The CTA was also upset that SD43 superintendent Tom Grant made an appearance at the introduction of Bill 22 by the government in late February. But in a letter to CTA president Teresa Grandinetti, Grant stated he and Steve Cardwell, superintendent of Vancouver School Board and president of the BC School Superintendents' Association, attended solely as BCSSA representatives. He said they commented on the inadequacies of the Learning Improvement Fund and said they would organize class sizes to appropriate maximums.
"We also referenced that this school system is so successful because of the high calibre of our teachers in our schools," Grant wrote. "I will continue to communicate this message to all who would listen."
Despite the ongoing teachers' dispute, the Ministry of Education announced school operating funding grants for the next school year.
In School District 43, that grant is expected to total $241.7 million based on enrolment predictions for next year. That sum is about $5 million less than this year's operating grant, which was $246 million, according to the amended budget passed by the board of education in February.
But the estimated operating grant for the 2012/'13 school year is based on estimated enrolment and could change as numbers are confirmed.
The total includes funding for summer learning, vulnerable, refugee and special needs students, alternate and distributed (online) learning students, and includes wages for an estimated 1,700 teachers.